Social media and digital tools have changed the way we live and, to some extent, the way we die. Increasingly, loved ones and notables are honored through what could be called pre-mourning.
“I love my husband with all my heart,” tweeted Cindy McCain, as it was reported that her husband, Sen. John McCain, would discontinue treatment in his battle with cancer. Daughter Meghan tweeted, “Thank you for all your continued support and prayers.”
The tweets were echoed hundreds of thousands of times in less than 24 hours. The hope, of course, was that heartfelt messages would reach the Arizona senator before his death.
Before Aretha Franklin’s death on Aug. 16, the Queen of Soul was similarly honored by fans via social media. According to CNN’s Don Lemon, a reporter with close ties to Franklin, pre-mourning messages from an adoring public were read aloud to the 76-year-old singer during her final hours.
Back in June, when Charles Krauthammer, the acclaimed conservative columnist learned that he was dying of cancer, he wrote on The Washington Post website that he had only a few weeks to live. His last words soon reverberated on social media.
“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” he wrote. “I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”
Like John McCain, Krauthammer received an enormous outpouring of pre-mourning praise from all sides of the political spectrum. Each man was noted for taking a fair and articulate approach to the issues that seem, more than ever, to divide us. Social media was active in April before the passing of Barbara Bush, the wife of one president and mother of another. The love and respect for Mrs. Bush was immediately apparent in the flood of digital messages - many of which reached her before her death.
Barbara Bush planned every detail of her funeral and burial, but few in modern times have orchestrated a goodbye with such grace, dignity and detail as John McCain.
Some of our public heroes, such as the comedian Robin Williams, for example, are taken from us in such a way that there can be no pre-mourning. But, as McCain demonstrated, when one’s fate is clear there can be no greater source of final satisfaction than to hear and read the messages from those who care so deeply.
“Like most people, I have regrets,” wrote McCain in his farewell. “But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.”
A grateful nation mourns John McCain now, but was able to reach out before his death through social media and salute him.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.